Updated 15th May 2024

Beans: Why they’re great, and how to eat more

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Beans are seeds from the Fabaceae family, and they’re more than just a legume. They’re enjoyed in dishes across the world because they’re versatile, nutrient-dense, and readily available. 

Filled with protein and fiber, beans also contain a suite of essential nutrients, like iron, zinc, magnesium, and folate.

They’re also rich in plant compounds called polyphenols, which support your gut health. 

All of these qualities make beans a staple. So, whether you're sprucing up a salad or adding substance to a stew, beans will give you an extra nutritional boost.

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Types of bean

There’s a wide variety of beans, each with a unique flavor, texture, and nutritional profile. Some of the most popular types include:

  • Black beans: Known for their smooth texture and sweet flavor, black beans are common in Latin American cuisines.

  • Kidney beans: Named for their shape, these beans are hearty and often appear in soups, stews, and chilies.

  • Chickpeas (garbanzo beans): Their nutty taste and versatility make chickpeas a feature of Middle Eastern and Indian dishes.

  • Soybeans: These are a major source of protein, and they’re used to make tofu, tempeh, and soy milk.

  • Cannellini beans: These Italian white kidney beans have a smooth, creamy texture and a nutty flavor. They feature in minestrone soup, as well as salads and pasta dishes.

  • Fava beans (broad beans): Large and flat, fava beans have a slightly sweet, earthy flavor and need to be peeled. They’re popular in Mediterranean and Middle Eastern cuisines, and they’re often found in salads, stews, and spreads.

Health benefits of beans

Below, we outline some health benefits associated with regularly eating beans.

Cardiovascular health

Research consistently shows that beans can have a positive impact on heart health.

Their fiber, potassium, folate, and antioxidants can lower blood pressure and reduce cholesterol levels, which may decrease the risk of heart disease. 

A 2017 meta-analysis, for example, showed that legume consumption was associated with a lower risk of cardiovascular disease.

And a 2021 randomized crossover study found that consuming multiple varieties of beans decreased total and LDL, or “bad,” cholesterol levels in adults with high LDL cholesterol.

These findings suggest that beans have a positive impact on overall heart health.

Digestive health

The fiber in beans may help us maintain a healthy weight while promoting regular bowel movements and improving overall digestive health.

Beans can help gut bacteria access the nutrients they need — like starch and fiber — more easily. It’s especially true when we eat beans whole, not blended. This access supports beneficial bacteria in the gut, like species of Bifidobacterium

Navy beans and black beans can also help improve gut health by supporting the microbial community and strengthening the lining of your gut.

Although beans can cause digestive problems for some people, most issues can be avoided with the right methods of preparation and cooking.

Blood sugar

All beans and pulses have high levels of fiber. But some types have more fiber than others.

For example, 1 serving — ½ cup, or around 115 grams — of cooked kidney beans has about 5.7 g of dietary fiber, while pinto beans have 7.7 g, and navy beans have 9.5 g. 

Large studies have shown that diets rich in beans are associated with a reduced risk of some chronic diseases, including type 2 diabetes.

Also, beans have low glycemic index scores, which means they don’t cause large blood sugar responses.

Microbiome and overall health

Beans contain prebiotic compounds, like fiber, which feed your gut bacteria. This may help protect against certain diseases by supporting your gut microbiome.

How to eat more beans

There are a few strategies for getting more beans into your diet. One approach is to have bean-focused meals. These can include:

  • Refreshing bean salads: Combine mixed beans, like kidney, garbanzo, and black beans, with chopped vegetables, such as peppers, onions, and cucumbers. Add your favorite dressing and serve.

  • Bean soups and stews: Add white beans to a minestrone, or make a black bean soup with onions, garlic, and spices. These dishes are filling, comforting, and great for a cozy evening meal.

  • Tacos: Mashed or whole, seasoned beans can be a great meat substitute. For quick, delicious tacos, top your bean filling with lettuce, cheese, salsa, and avocado.

  • Bean dips: You can blend beans into smooth dips for an easy snack. Hummus is a great example. Experiment with ingredients, like beets or paprika. Or you might try a zesty black bean dip with lime and cilantro (coriander).

Sneaking beans into familiar dishes is another great way to add them to your diet. Here are three examples:

  1. Add pureed beans, such as white beans or chickpeas, to sauces and soups. For instance, blended chickpeas are a great addition to a curry.

  2. Add a small amount of white beans or chickpeas to smoothies. Make sure they’re cooked and soft first.

  3. You can also add beans to your favorite salads and rice or lentil dishes. They really merge well with those textures and flavors.

Global recipes

Here are some of delicious, bean-rich recipes from different regions:


Beans are nutrient-packed and versatile. They offer a range of health benefits, from supporting heart health to promoting good digestion.

Beans are an excellent addition to any diet, and the many varieties can be enjoyed in countless ways.

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